I’m embarrassed to admit, I have always been afraid of cooking a whole chicken. I love to cook and try new things. I’ve never been afraid to try a recipe. But tackling the preparation and cooking of a whole chicken or turkey, well, that was just entering Scaryville for me.
For years, I have longed to cook the Thanksgiving bird. Instead, I defaulted to good ole mom for that, based simply on my fear. I’ve watched her unwrap, clean, and prep it for years on end, but I never worked up the courage to cook a whole poultry myself. Until recently.
I needed some private time to conquer the fear alone in my kitchen, in the event there were any embarrassing mishaps. So one morning, before the break of dawn, after a good run to settle any anxieties, before any toddler stirrings, even before my first cup of coffee, I slowly withdrew the whole chicken from my refrigerator, giblets and all. I cautiously unwrapped my little friend, pulling out all the parts from the cavity. I gave him a good wash in the sink, then placed him on the cutting board for some prep work.
I have to confess: I felt a little sad looking at my bird. Yes, I realize that it was once a living being, but it made me sad to see him (or her?) looking so real, getting ready to be cooked. But there was no turning back now, so I massaged my bird well with some olive oil and applied a spiced herb rub. I talked to my chicken a little bit and told him how I was grateful that he gave his life to allow my family to have a nice dinner (or two or three). I reassured him I would use all of his parts, and that nothing would go to waste. Then after several minutes, I gently placed my bird in the slow cooker and proceeded to set it to low, cooking for a nice, slow 8 hours.
That’s it! The hard part was done and over. Mission accomplished. I successfully cleaned, prepped, and cooked an entire bird in the slow cooker. And guess what? Not only did it smell amazing as it cooked throughout the day, but it also tasted amazing: juicy, tender, fall-off-the-bone yumminess. I survived it. No mishaps. Completely ridiculous unfounded fears conquered!
I have to say that talking to my whole bird has become a sort of tradition. A couple of mornings ago, as my 2-year-old was eating her breakfast, I worked on cleaning and prepping the chicken. I talked her through what I was doing, and then I had the chicken perform a silly chicken dance on the cutting board for her. She thought that was pretty funny. Later that night as I tucked her into bed and we said prayers, she said, “Dear God, thank you for our chicken.” What a mommy moment! She remembered me saying it earlier that morning when I told her that we should thank God for allowing us to have this chicken for our family.
I have some bonus uses for my friend, the chicken. When I told the first one that I would have no waste, I meant it. I have very little waste when I make a whole bird. Typically, I can get at least three meals out of a whole chicken for my family. Here are a few things I do with my chicken (leftovers and otherwise) after our initial roasted chicken meal:
- Soup. Shredded leftover chicken is perfect for soup and some of our favorites include chicken and rice, taco, and cream of chicken soup . . . just to name a few.
- Pot Pie. This week, in fact, I pulled out some leftover shredded chicken from the freezer, compliments of one of my whole-bird feasts, and made a pot pie from scratch. Yep, crust and all! I’ll have to post the recipe soon.
- Casseroles and enchiladas. C’mon, who doesn’t love enchiladas?
- Bone broth. This, alone, has multiple uses! Once the chicken has cooked and we have had our dinner, I clean the meat from the bones and place the bones back in the slow cooker. I add 1-2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, a couple of handfuls of mirepoix (fancy speak for onion, celery, and carrots), and water to the top of the pot and set it to low, allowing it to cook for the next 24-48 hours. The only problem is that the smell throughout the house is awesome, even at 3:00 am! Afterward, I strain the broth from the slow cooker and place it in a large bowl and tightly cover it, then pop it in the refrigerator. The next day, I skim off the fat from the top and pour the broth into mason jars and place it back into the refrigerator until I’m ready to use it. Good uses for this nutritionally rich broth include:
- Steamed rice with bone broth instead of water.
- Soups and stews that call for broth or water.
- To simply drink, warmed up on its own. Don’t knock it till you try it – this stuff is good!
Yes, my friends, all those years I wasted being afraid of whole, raw poultry were for nothing! Conquering the naked bird was not nearly as scary or intimidating as I had built it up to be, plus it opened up some new experimentation journeys in the kitchen.
So this year instead of asking mom to make the Thanksgiving turkey, guess who is going to take on the job, once and for all?! Maybe Tom the Turkey will even dance a turkey jig on the counter for my daughter! Now if I could only find a slow cooker large enough to house a 10 lb bird . . .